Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Pieces, parts and peards

This weekend as we were getting ready to go outside to play, Bud approached me with his arms full of toys.

"Mama, can I take my peards outside with us?"


I looked at the things he was carrying - a ball, a hat, a car, a horse, and assorted other toys.

"You want to take those toys outside?"


"Okay," I said, still a bit mystified.

We went outside and Bud dumped the toys in a pile on the picnic table, then grabbed the hat and said, "Come on!"

He ran to the grassy hill beside our house and plunked the hat down with determined purpose. Then he backed up and announced, "One day in Budsland, something appeared from far away! It was a hat!"

It clicked. The grassy hill next to our house has always been Teletubbyland, and one of Bud's favorite Teletubbies scripts is "One day in Teletubbyland, something appeared from far away."

But now that Bud is using less direct echolalia and is mitigating his scripts more and more, he is working to break down the scripts into their component parts. As a result, I am getting even more insight in the ways in which his language development is nontraditional.

I'm not an expert on language development, but it seems to me that most children learn the rules of language as they learn to speak. So even though they don't consciously know they're doing it, as they learn to talk they follow the rule of sentence structure. Sentences have subjects (nouns) and verbs. Even in their very first sentences, Somebody does Something: I go. You go. He/she/it goes.

Not so with Bud, whose earliest sentences were less likely to sound like "I go" than "Oh no! Let's get out of here!"

It seems that most typically developing children also use the rules of grammar in their receptive language, to decode the messages they hear. So they hear "something appeared from far away," and their brains decode automatically: "right - must have subject and verb: something = subject, appeared = verb." Of course, children make mistakes as they learn this process, resulting in some of the hilarious "Kids Say the Darnedest Things"-type quotes. (My favorite example of this is a colleague's daughter who, when reprimanded and told to behave, replied "I'm BEING have!")

But Bud, as a gestalt learner of language, does not decode language the same way. As I posted previously, he has begun to deconstruct his gestalt language into its composite parts, but because he did not acquire language through the use of rules, he doesn't use those rules in the deconstruction.

So while other children hear a traditional sentence with a subject and a verb - "One day in Teletubbyland, something appeared from far away," - it seems Bud hears a headline, a title, an announcement, a declaration:

"One day in Teletubbyland: Something! A peard, from far away!"

So, naturally, when he wants to play this game he needs to gather up his peards.

It makes me wonder - how often does Bud hear things differently, and decode them in this different way? How often does he have to disregard the words themselves and make meaning by reading the context, by determining that this-string-of-words said by this-group-of-people in this-sort-of-circumstance must have this-kind-of-meaning.

My goodness, I think, that must be so difficult! It must be exhausting!

And then, He must be a genius!

But, no. It would be difficult for me. That does not make it universally difficult. And he is very smart - so smart, in fact, that he would not choose to do things in the most difficult way.

My way - the traditional way - is not necessarily the right way.

His way is not even wrong.

It strikes me that there's a parallel between words and people. Words string together to make sentences and paragraphs that express complicated thoughts and ideas. But when you deconstruct them, the thoughts and ideas mean far more than their component parts.

Bud has my eyes and disposition. He has his dad's mouth and love of music.

But he has a mind of his own.


Kristina Chew said...

How many times has Charlie "re-presented" that very opener from Teletubbies!

He is clear on single words, not on phrases and sentences and so his version of "One day in Teletubbieland something appeared" would be a kind of babble, heavy on the vowels and the intonations, the risings and fallings of the announcer's voice.

On the music of the language.

On the sound of the word streams, and not--as I tend to be--on the meaning.

Charlie has always some sort of auditory processing interfence-dys/mis-regulation. But I am also reminded of the fact that, among the ancients, one did not leave spaces between words, or use punctuation; one wrote INALLCAPS.

You would have to know the language to know where one word ended and another began. The language most people were speaking.

Etimato is ancient Greek for "he is honored" but I confess to hearing "eh, tomato" --- and am sure the very honorable Bud would hear something fine and different, too.

Big Orange said...

ooooohh, that was yummy! "not even wrong"... in her book "Elijah's Cup" Paradiz spoke of autism not being a type of disease that must be cured, but as a different type of CULTURE that must be understood. When it comes to ASD language, I agree: auties are FAAAAR from dumb and no one wants to make more work for themselves. It's amazing how the brain processes things!!

::sigh:: now, for that lovely day when our son begins repeating us...

Jannalou said...

The mom I met today told me about a dream her older (NT) son had once, about a day when his younger (autistic) brother went to a land where everyone spoke his language.

She said, "We always talk about how we dream that S will learn to speak our language." But there was a sincerity about her voice and expression that told me that she just wants to learn her son's language. (Which I think she does, whether or not she believes it - based on the interaction I saw today.)

I will be writing about this meeting later tonight. Suffice to say, I have a new client, and I am looking forwards to getting to know him.

Zilari said...

I cannot speak for anyone else on the spectrum but I have the impression that at least a few may relate.

My language processing and development was quite similar to Bud's, from what I've read so far. The way I interpret it now is that what I did was "record" huge chunks of text and language input, without necessarily understanding the context or meaning (at least in terms of the "meaning" most other people would have been likely to pick up).

Over time, I learned to "cut and paste" segments of language into something at least somewhat communicative. What happened fairly often was that I'd hear or read a paragraph (usually multiple times) and memorize it as a sort of script.

Then one day I'd happen to hear or read something "familiar" and at that point it would occur to me that the particular word or phrase was actually a sub-element of one of my scripts.

This allowed me to piece apart language to a certain extent: basically taking in tremendous amounts of data and then finding patterns in the data once I'd memorized a sufficient amount of "raw" input.

I still "processed" in parts (and do), however, the part-processing is something that happens after the data-storage exercise. At least when it comes to language.

I bet you that Bud might find the whole "misheard lyrics" ( see http://www.kissthisguy.com/ for examples) phenomenon hilarious one day. :)

Camille said...

Does "peards" rhyme with "herds" or "beards"?

I was thinking he had heard "birds" somewhere and thought it was "pirds."

Anyway, very bright boy. :-)

Kev said...

Megan's favourite (modified) Teletubbies quote is:

"La-la turned the page....on the last page was a picture of Megan and some rabbits!"

This never fails to crack her up and leads her to jump around the room shouting 'de wabbits, de wabbits' at the top of her voice like an economy sized Elmer Fudd.

Hilarious :o)

MOM-NOS said...

Camille, peards rhymes with beards.

Kev, the same quote is often heard at our house - of course, around here we see Bud with the rabbits on the last page.

Joseph said...

it seems to me that most children learn the rules of language as they learn to speak

Steven Pinker believes grammar is a human instinct.

MothersVox said...

What a delicious example of Bud's decoding!

Sweet M does the same sort of thing . . . hence her "Ooww, yeah baby, that's what I'm talkin' about" substituted for "yes." Or, when she doesn't like something now, she'll say "Too obvious!"

Estee Klar said...

Yup. My favourite book as well (as you know). I think that Adam is in fact, never wrong.

Beautiful post!